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|Adult male common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) of the Fringillinae.|
The true finches are passerine birds in the family Fringillidae. They are predominantly seed-eating songbirds. Most are native to the Northern Hemisphere, but one subfamily is endemic to the Neotropics, one to the Hawaiian Islands, and one subfamily – monotypic at genus level – is found only in the Palaearctic. The scientific name Fringillidae comes from the Latin word fringilla for the common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) – a member of that last subfamily – which is common in Europe.
Many birds in other families are also commonly called "finches", including some species in the very similar-looking waxbills or estrildid finches (family Estrildidae) of the Old World tropics and Australia; several groups of the bunting and American sparrow family (Emberizidae); and the Darwin's finches of the Galapagos islands, now considered members of the tanager family (Thraupidae).
The smallest "classical" true finches are the Andean siskin (Carduelis spinescens) at as little as 9.5 cm (3.8 in) and the lesser goldfinch (C. psaltria) at as little as 8 g (0.28 oz). The largest species is probably the collared grosbeak (Mycerobas affinis) at up to 24 cm (9.4 in) and 83 g (2.9 oz), although larger lengths, to 25.5 cm (10.0 in) in the pine grosbeak (Pinicola enucleator), and weights, to 86.1 g (3.04 oz) in the evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus), have been recorded in species which are slightly smaller on average. They typically have strong, stubby beaks, which in some species can be quite large; however, Hawaiian honeycreepers are famous for the wide range of bill shapes and sizes brought about by adaptive radiation. All true finches have 12 remiges and 9 primary rectrices. The basic plumage colour is brownish, sometimes greenish; many have considerable amounts of black, while white plumage is generally absent except as wing-bars or other signalling marks. Bright yellow and red carotenoid pigments are commonplace in this family, and thus blue structural colours are rather rare, as the yellow pigments turn the blue color into green. Many, but by no means all true finches have strong sexual dichromatism, the females typically lacking the bright carotenoid markings of males.
Finches are typically inhabitants of well-wooded areas, but some can be found on mountains or even in deserts. They are primarily granivorous, but euphoniines include considerable amounts of arthropods and berries in their diet, and Hawaiian honeycreepers evolved to utilize a wide range of food sources, including nectar. The diet of Fringillidae nestlings includes a varying amount of small arthropods. True finches have a bouncing flight like most small passerines, alternating bouts of flapping with gliding on closed wings. Most sing well and several are commonly seen cagebirds; foremost among these is the domesticated canary (Serinus canaria domestica). The nests are basket-shaped and usually built in trees, more rarely in bushes, between rocks or on similar substrate.
Systematics and taxonomy
The taxonomic structure of the true finch family, Fringillidae, has been fairly disputed in the past, with some upranking the Hawaiian honeycreepers (Drepanidinae) as family Drepanididae and/or uniting the cardueline and fringilline finches as tribes (Carduelini and Fringillini) in one subfamily; the euphonious finches (Euphoniinae) were thought to be tanagers due to general similarity in appearance and mode of life until their real affinities were realized. In particular, North American authors have often merged the buntings and American sparrow family (Emberizidae) – and sometimes the bulk of the nine-primaried oscines – with the split-up Fringillidae as subfamilies of a single massive family. But the current understanding of Passeroidea phylogeny is better reflected in keeping the fundamental nine-primaried oscine clades as distinct families. However, Przewalski's "rosefinch" (Urocynchramus pylzowi) is now classified as a distinct family, monotypic as to genus and species, and with no particularly close relatives among the Passeroidea.
Fossil remains of true finches are rare, and those that are known can mostly be assigned to extant genera at least. Like the other Passeroidea families, the true finches seem to be of roughly Middle Miocene origin, around 20-10 million years ago (Ma). An unidentifable finch fossil from the Messinian age, around 12 to 7.3 million years ago (Ma) during the Late Miocene subepoch, has been found at Polgárdi in Hungary.
Cassin's finch (Haemorhous cassinii), an American rosefinch
Pallas' rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus), a true rosefinch
Hooded siskin (Spinus magellanica)
Male Violaceous euphonia (Euphonia violacea)
European goldfinch, Carduelis carduelis
European greenfinch, Chloris chloris
Subfamilies and genera
The systematics of the cardueline finches are contentious. The layout presented here follows the recent decades' molecular phylogenetic studies, and takes into account the traditional splitting of the genus Carduelis. The exact position of several genera in the cardueline sequence is tentative.
- Subfamily Fringillinae – fringilline finches. Three species, which feed their young on insects and few if any seed
- Genus Fringilla
- Subfamily Carduelinae – cardueline finches. A much larger group that contains several genera which feed their young mainly on seeds. This subfamily consists of several well-defined clades.
- Typical grosbeaks
- Arid-zone clade
- Asian rosefinches
- American rosefinches
- Genus Haemorhous
- Goldfinch-canary-crossbill clade (Carduelis and Serinus are polyphyletic and are probably best regarded as a collection of independent sub-groups or genera.)
- Genus Serinus sensu lato – canaries, African seedeaters, serins and African siskins
- Genus Linurgus – oriole finch (possibly basal to Crithagra)
- Genus Rhynchostruthus – golden-winged grosbeak (tentatively placed here)
- Genus "Serinus" thibetanus – Tibetan serin (probably related to Spinus and Serinus sensu stricto)
- Genus Carduelis – European goldfinch, citril finch and Corsican finch/ linnets, twite probably related to Spinus
- Genus Chloris – greenfinches
- Genus Rhodospiza – desert finch
- Genus Acanthis – redpolls
- Genus Loxia – crossbills
- Genus Spinus – siskins and American goldfinches
- Carduelinae incertae sedis
- Subfamily Drepanidinae – Hawaiian honeycreepers. Endemic to the Hawaiian Islands; formerly often treated as a separate family.
- Some 10-12 living genera, about 7 recently extinct
- Subfamily Euphoniinae – Euphonious finches. Endemic to the Neotropics; formerly placed in Thraupidae.
- Newton (1973), Clement et al. (1993)
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